MUMBAI | While Covid-19 may have brought much of the world to a standstill, for many Seeds, it was also a call to action.
Among the changemakers answering that call were Keya and Alina, two Indian Seeds whose actions have given thousands of impoverished people in Mumbai access to items that are key to preventing spread of the Coronavirus.
“I decided that if I couldn’t get to Camp, I would at least try and bring some Seeds of Peace spirit here to Mumbai, India, where it’s desperately needed,” Keya, a 2018 Seed, recently wrote.
In the spring, Keya launched a five-day campaign to raise enough money to buy 25,000 washable cloth masks. She was involved in the process from design to distribution—tweaking a prototype of a mask to find the most effective model, teaming up with artisans left unemployed in the lockdown to give them three weeks of work making the masks, and partnering with a local NGO to deliver the masks along with food rations.
In the end, she raised enough to buy 32,100 masks and was recognized as Mumbai’s “youngest COVID warrior” by a local radio station.
Alina, a 2019 Seed, received 138 donations totaling over $13,000 (her original goal was around $660) raised for Habitat for Humanity. Her efforts secured enough funds to deliver 45,176 Family Essential Kits (with items like flour, rice and oil), and 20,438 Hygiene Kits (handsoap, disinfectant, masks, sanitary napkins, etc.) to approximately 60,000 families.
She said that being able to help so many people sparked something in her, “something that I have been yearning to feel ever since I returned from the Seeds of Peace Camp in 2019. And that is, a feeling of purpose.”
“When I realized that I couldn’t wait for someone else to solve the problems that so many Indians are facing, I came to the decision that I had to chip in as much as I could, no matter how small the scale.”
Alina and Keya talked about how their seemingly humbled goals ballooned into successes beyond their imaginations, and shared advice for others looking to follow in their footsteps. Their comments have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Where did the idea for your project come from? Why did you take on this particular challenge?
KEYA: The swift lockdown in India caught us all off guard, but hit daily-wage workers harder than anyone else. These people were stranded thousands of miles from home, with no source of income and no savings to fall back on. This was only the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in India and we had already started to see community efforts to distribute food rations in slum communities and to migrant workers.
I read about how masks, any mask at all, could help curb the spread of the virus, and I started thinking about how I could do my bit in the city. I realized that the slums—where often six to seven people share a 10-by-10-foot room and where there are common community toilets—would be a flashpoint for the virus. These people would be hit hardest if they contracted the coronavirus, and wearing masks would be an effective way to protect them.
At the time, most non-profit organizations didn’t have the bandwidth to take on mask distribution—they had their hands full with food rationing. Seeing that masks would be a long-term need, I decided to single handedly take this challenge on.
ALINA: The Alpha Urbane Project, a youth organization that has done some great work over the past few years organized this fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity (HFH), and they approached me following the outbreak of COVID-19 in India. I had been thinking about how to do my bit, and this possibility came at the perfect time. Moreover, Habitat for Humanity was the NGO that I felt most strongly towards, due to their unwavering commitment to the cause of distributing healthcare and essential kits, funded by many teenagers who took up such campaigns.
Were you surprised by the results of your efforts?
ALINA: My initial goal for the fundraiser was 50,000 INR (about $660) which I thought was a stretch. I didn’t think I would get enough supporters, since most people were already backing other NGOs or finding other ways to contribute. However, when I surpassed my goal within a few hours, it gave me the drive to keep going. This fundraiser has completely exceeded my expectations. I am so grateful that these funds will help those who are facing the greatest challenges during this lockdown due to the pandemic.
KEYA: It was definitely terrifying to make a bold claim that I would raise enough money for 25,000 masks over a period of five days, but I also knew that putting a strict time frame and a stiff fundraising target would give the cause the momentum it needed. And it was such a headrush when the donations came pouring in. Not just the money, but also congratulatory calls from people I didn’t know who encouraged me and empowered me to keep going.
On the fifth day of my drive, I received a call from a local Mumbai radio station inviting me on the air to talk about my project. That helped me to reach out to a larger audience, and although I had already met my target by day five, I ended up extending my fundraiser by two more days to collect money for 8,000 more masks.
When all of this was done and I had caught my breath, I reached out to everyone who contributed, in ways large and small, to share the rewarding knowledge that we had all been a part of something much larger than ourselves.
Did your Seeds of Peace experience or your identity as a Seed help inspire or prepare you for this in any way?
ALINA: Absolutely! Seeds of Peace widened my horizons drastically. Before Seeds, my contributions ranged from donating clothes and books to supporting local charities. Seeds of Peace enabled me to think bigger, because big change is sprouted from equally big movements. It made me see the world in a different way, and made me realize that each individual has a voice that matters and can make a difference. Being a Seed is a prominent part of my identity, and it fuels my spirit of wanting to help.
KEYA: It was first at Seeds of Peace that I realized that young people can be powerful agents of change and that there is always scope to make a difference. Camp opened my eyes to the power of dialogue to better understanding, and how to be a part of the solution. I saw that there were enough people in my city who, like me, wanted to help but didn’t know how. I thought that this fundraiser for masks would be a great way to mobilize my community towards a common cause—something that I learned at Seeds of Peace. I was so far from Pleasant Lake and the spirit of togetherness that infects you at Seeds of Peace. This was my way of reminiscing about the best summer of my life—and paying it forward in a little way in my city.
What advice would you give to other young people looking to help out in their communities right now?
KEYA: Be alert to the need and make sure that your campaign answers that need. For example, generating employment for out-of-work migrant workers and distributing masks to protect very poor communities was a clear need in India. Then, make a beginning.
The first step is always the hardest but if you’re willing to ask for help, you learn a lot and it gets easier. Trust the Process—the Seeds way. Start by setting a clear goal and a tight timeframe for your project. Keep your communication clear and use social media to enlist the support of everyone you know, as well as don’t know. You’ll be surprised at how the universe reaches out to help you when you’re doing good work.
I also think it’s important to follow up and update your donors so that they can actually see the impact they’ve made. I wanted my donors to own the cause and share its credit with me. Remember to send out photos, personalized thank-you’s, and updates on your progress. Be inclusive—this is a great way to build a community of changemakers whose support you can count on even in the future. Think big, even if you have to start small.
ALINA: My fundraiser really underscored the position of privilege that I am in. I knew that I would have to do extensive research about the problem, so that I could help mend the cracks in so many parts of my country, India. So my first piece of advice to someone looking to help their community would be to take the time to understand the nuances of the problem in detail before you jump in and try to solve it.
Another piece of advice would be to find something that motivates you to help. Ask yourself: what is your driving force, and how does it encourage you? My motivation stems from my deep-rooted inspiration and love for my father. He worked in the corporate world, but he always found a way to amalgamate philanthropy into his work. When you have a solid reason pushing you to help, even at times when things don’t work out the way you want them to, your driving force will keep you going.